DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA’s decision to walk out on the owners last Friday elevated the NFL offseason to a level that many people, including myself, thought would never happen…an offseason where essentially the players are on strike. Despite two extensions of the former labor agreement the two sides couldn’t come to terms on a new CBA, specifically the exact distribution of moneys between the owners and the players.
The blame game and the he said, she said debate has been raging ever since with both sides criticizing each other. But what struck me listening to the NFL’s lead labor negotiator, Jeff Pash, during his impromptu press conference after the players walked was if the proposal the owners were offering the players on Friday was legitimate, the NFLPA would have a difficult time justifying their decision to walk away from the negotiating table (a proposal which the NFLPA admitted existed). The NFL explained the deal as follows:
- We more than split the economic difference between us, increasing our proposed cap for 2011 significantly and accepting the Union’s proposed cap number for 2014 ($161 million per club).
- An entry level compensation system based on the Union’s “rookie cap” proposal, rather than the wage scale proposed by the clubs. Under the NFL proposal, players drafted in rounds 2-7 would be paid the same or more than they are paid today. Savings from the first round would be reallocated to veteran players and benefits.
- A guarantee of up to $1 million of a player’s salary for the contract year after his injury – the first time that the clubs have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.
- Immediate implementation of changes to promote player health and safety by
- Reducing the off-season program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 to 10, and limiting on-field practice time and contact;
- Limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; and
- Increasing number of days off for players.
- Commit that any change to an 18-game season will be made only by agreement and that the 2011 and 2012 seasons will be played under the current 16-game format.
- Owner funding of $82 million in 2011-12 to support additional benefits to former players, which would increase retirement benefits for more than 2000 former players by nearly 60 percent.
- Offer current players the opportunity to remain in the player medical plan for life.
- Third party arbitration for appeals in the drug and steroid programs.
- Improvements in the Mackey plan, disability plan, and degree completion bonus program.
- A per-club cash minimum spend of 90 percent of the salary cap over three seasons.
Although I’m not privy to all the facts, this sounds like an extremely fair deal, especially when compounded with the fact that the owners were willing to split the $650 million gap between them and the players over the increased funds the owners were looking to keep. In spite of this proposed deal, Smith directed the players to walk and began the decertification of the NFLPA.
The main sticking point for the union was simply that the NFL owners were unwilling to open their financial records to the NFLPA, prove that teams were losing money, and thus provide justification that owners needed to take additional money off the top to stay afloat. The ridiculousness of the union’s complaint is shown with a comment from Smith on Friday when he stated; “We (the NFLPA) are going to demand as your business partners that you (the NFL) meet us halfway and justify taking any money from us.”
Excuse me Mr. Smith, but since when is the NFLPA and its players equal partners in the business, not the product, that is the NFL? I have never read or heard anything about the NFLPA contributing financially to the individual teams or collective business organization which comprises the National Football League. The NFLPA’s members are employees, not business partners, of NFL franchises. Employees have the right to ask for/demand larger salaries, increased benefits, etc. However, employers, such as each NFL franchise, have the right to deny those requests. Additionally, as employers NFL franchises have the right to ask employees to take a pay cut or quit if it is in the best interest of their business.
The NFLPA’s demand to have access to the complete financial records of each franchise is something no right minded business would agree to. When negotiating your salary with your employer how often do you demand and receive full access to the financial records of the company so that you can determine whether or not you as an employee are receiving a fair percentage of the profits? Rarely if ever does this happen…and why? Because an owner is under no obligation to share any financial data with an employee. The minute the players want to start converting their salaries into a percentage of ownership in the team they play for and assume the financial risk involved with owning a business, is the moment when they have a right to view a franchise’s records. And no Mark Schlereth, the players “forfeiting” money off the top to the owners does not count towards sharing financial responsibility and risk.
Players do assume a health risk while employees of NFL franchises due to the physically abusive working environment. But no one is forcing players out onto the football field. No one is forcing them to crush another human beings body to the ground or accept being crushed themselves. The players are willingly assuming the risk involved with being an employee of an NFL franchise. Therefore how is this any different than the working environment risks that miners, loggers, law enforcement agents, firefighters, etc. accept and endure? It certainly doesn’t grant or entitle someone to the financial records of your employer.
Owners do have a responsibility to provide a safe/safer working environment and it would seem that the deal put forth above attempts to address some of the safety concerns from players. It also explicitly states that there will not be an 18 game regular season for the next two years and will never be one without the players’ consent. Now it’s debatable whether or not the owners actually ever wanted an 18 game regular season, but at least the players would have control over this issue going forward.
Lastly, the players argue that ownership’s offer wasn’t serious because it wasn’t presented until the final day of negotiations. But since when have deals between the union and the owners been completed days, weeks, months, or years prior to a current CBA expiring? Additionally, if the players were serious about negotiating themselves, they should have pressed the owners on their latest proposal, extended the former CBA and continued talks. Instead the players walked, decertified the union, and are refusing to return to the negotiating table.
As with most things in this world the dispute between the NFLPA and the NFL is about money. But for my money I’ll take the side of the owners who seem to be attempting to ensure that 4-6 years from now, the NFL is still a profitable business and one in which owners can still afford to pay the salaries of their employees, the players.